Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Knightly Clothing in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, clothing strictly dictated the social status of a person. Called the sumptuary laws, the edict on dress code and other expenses that medieval society had limited such according to class; only royalty were allowed to own and wear the richest, most luxurious items, while the poorest of the poor were the most modestly dressed of all classes. Buying clothing in medieval times was limited according to wealth and social rank.

With such declaration, the social structure was thus maintained. Everyone knew their place and just from one look at a person’s clothes, medieval society knew what he or she does for a living or else, his or her status in society. Just as peasants, merchants, nobility, and royalty can be known through their clothes, knights had their distinctive attire that lets others know what they are at a glance.

The Proverbial Shining Armor

The knights were an outcome of the feudal system that existed in the Middle Ages. They would go to war for their lords, to acquire lands or else valuable spoils from their belligerent exploits. In order to successfully fulfill this role, knights often wore protection when going fighting. Protection often consisted of a suit of metal armor that covered them from head to toe. The finer the suit of armor was, the more important the knight was in society.

The head was usually covered by a helmet, with or without a hinged visor that protected the eyes. Breastplates and back armor protected the vital organs of the chest, back abdomen, while greaves protected the calves and shins. There were plates of armor that covered the kneecap, thigh, and feet. As well, the arms, hands and even the vulnerable armpits were covered with plates of armor.

In earlier times, chainmail was used as protection. The mail consisted of fine metal rings that covered the trunk, arms, legs, and up to the neck and head. Sometimes, chainmail was used beneath the suit of armor.

Like Any Other Man Underneath It All

However, underneath a 40- to 60- pound metal suit of armor, or movement-restricting chainmail, every knight dressed the same as a civilian of his rank. The bottommost layer of clothing consisted of a linen undershirt and linen underpants. The knight then wore woolen stockings over his bare legs. Next, padding consisted of a quilted coat was worn, known by various names such as doublet, gambeson, and arming coat. A surcoat was a robe tied with a belt at the waist and emblazoned with the coat of arms or device that identifies the knight during battle. All the layers of clothing would be necessary to keep the knight from chafing once the armor is worn.

Being of such vital significance to the feudal way of life, knights in society were stationed somewhere above peasantry and below or, in many occasions, with the aristocracy. Nevertheless, they were the wealthiest soldiers of the medieval kingdom, as their medieval clothing may accordingly confirm.


Berry Sweis writes articles related to renaissance costume and medieval clothing. You can find more information about medieval clothing at our web site.

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